Siesta Key was a sleepy, virtually uninhabited barrier Island off the coast of Sarasota until early in the 20th century. In fact, the island wasn’t’ even called Siesta Key then. It was variously known as Clam Island, Little Sarasota Island, or Sarasota Key and was hardly a tourist destination. A few area families had built beach homes on the island and a handful of particularly hardy individuals even lived here year round. Most residents were fishermen and their families, although a few orange groves had been planted on the Key and one enterprising entrepreneur had opened a fertilizer plant here as early as 1848.
Siesta Key in those days had all of the traits lush tropical sands were known for ; dense vegetation and even denser mosquito swarms, snakes of all varieties including all of the poisonous ones found in the United States –( Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, Water Moccasins, and Coral Snakes), sand flees, mean wildcats and even meaner wild bears. The Key was not connected to the mainland and everything was transported across Sarasota Bay by boat. All of this began to change very shortly after the beginning of the 20th Century. In 1906, Captain Roberts and his wife turned their large boardinghouse home into a hotel. They offered accommodations to northern visitors for the winter and became famous for Mrs. Roberts’’ seafood recipes.
Mrs. Roberts’ cooking – especially her clam chowder – was so good that her culinary prowess brought members of the Eastern establishment to Siesta Key to stay and eat at the Roberts’ Inn (also known as the Siesta Inn). Hollywood elite, including Cecil B. Demille, Betty Davis, Charlton Heston, Dorothy Lamour, Agnes Moorehead, Cornel Wilde and Betty Hutton, also stayed and dined at the Siesta Inn. Later artists, Such as Ben Stahl and Hilton Leech were also familiar with the results of Mrs. Roberts’ recipes, even though they never had a chance to know the lady herself.
The year after Roberts’ Hotel opened; Capt. Roberts and two partners formed the Siesta Land Company, platted Siesta Village and renamed the Island “Siesta Key”. The most prominent member of this group was Harry Higel, a developer, and then-mayor of Sarasota. Higel actively advertised lots in Siesta Village and began making improvements to the Island and its surroundings in an effort to make the Key more desirable. He dredged three canals through Siesta Village and connected them to the Bay, giving more of his lots direct access to the water.
At the same time, an unrelated venture, the Bay Island Hotel, opened its doors in 1912, bringing a new level of lodging to Siesta Key. The hotel was touted as “The largest and Most Beautiful” on Florida’s west coast and remained in operation until the mid-1940’s when it was closed by its owner because she learned the hotel was serving alcohol and operating as an afterhours bar. The structure itself burned in 1952.
Harry Higel, also built a Hotel which he called Higelhurst, on Siesta Key. The Hotel opened in 1914 on the shore at Big Pass at the north end of the Key. Recognizing that the poor access to the Island was hindering its development, Higel ran his boat to ferry guests between his hotel and the city of Sarasota and worked tirelessly to get the Army Corp of Engineers to build a a bridge to Siesta Key, which opened in 1917. Its sister bridge, connecting the Southern end of the Island to the mainland at Stickney Point opened in 1927.
During and after the Depression, development on Siesta Key proceeded much more slowly. By the mid 1940’s the Island only had a population of about 300. The Island did attract artists and by 1955 there were 75 distinguished artists living on the Key. Among the resident artists were Impressionist Syd Solomon, illustrator and watercolorist Thomas Ultz, and Alley Oop creator VT Hamilton.
Today, Siesta Key has a population of about 24,000 and attracts approximately 350,000 visitors per year. There are wonderful restaurants, and one may still see artists holding seats at local watering holes. As for the Beautiful Water, Warm Winter Days and White Sand, – they still remain.
Investors, Listen up: now is the best time in years to consider buying rental real estate in the Sarasota, Siesta Key, and surrounding areas. According to numerous national real estate experts, including the Today Show’s experts, Sarasota, Siesta Key and surrounding area is the number 1 “best value” location to purchase property right now. The [...]
In 2007, it was sellers who stubbornly held onto their asking price. Now it could be that buyers who wait for the great shadow inventory fall out will find themselves empty handed in Sarasota, Siesta Key and the Surrounding area. Real Estate is local. So local in fact that a near beach property in Englewood [...]
Dr. Beach – America’s Foremost Beach Expert Picked “Siesta Key Beach “ As The Best Beach In America # 1 11/09-10/2011 Penguin Island Exhibit at Mote Aquarium – Runs into December – check with Mote Marine for specific dates. 11/10-14/2011 2nd Annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand sculpturing competition. Be sure and visit the [...]